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365 Days After My Last Drink

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March 17, 2016 was a very important day for me. There were 365 full days that stood between me and my last drink.

Yep, St. Patrick’s Day. How ironic since I’m Irish-Catholic, am I right? Anyway, 365 is a lot of days for a girl who spent the last 10 years as a professional binge drinker. You rarely realize your last day of drinking will be your last day of drinking. I remember clearly my last weekend of binge drinking – scratch that.  I remember nothing. But it was a bottomless mimosa brunch, and I took bottomless quite literally. And then I switched to bottomless glasses of wine. And the rest is history.  It’s a miracle I had about a half of a glass of wine left in the bottle from that night. After my two-day hangover, I decided to pour the rest of the grape into a glass, polish it off and call it a night. The next day I decided it was going to be a while until I went out drinking again – at least not until the next weekend.

I had therapy that week and recapped the ounces of the weekend I remembered. The guilt and shame tied to that weekend were insurmountable. The emotion evoked by the blackout drinking was something I was very rarely able to share with anyone for fear they’d forcefully pull the bottle of merlot right out of my hands. Plus, who likes a girl who can’t handle her alcohol? But I became comfortable enough to disclose how it was negatively affecting me in those therapy sessions.

That particular session, my therapist quite simply asked if I could just take drinking off the table altogether, at least for now.  That’s a clever thought. Why didn’t I think of that? But how am I supposed to go to weddings? How am I supposed to be sober at my own wedding? How am I supposed to live without wine? Here’s the deal: you’ll never get anywhere with anything if you’re trying to rearrange your schedule because you don’t know what traffic will look like on July 19, 2030. Something clicked that evening. Divine intervention? A spiritual awakening? I won’t ask questions – all I know is certain neurons in my brain woke up. Maybe it was my liver… oh, if only my liver could talk. “No, no, no, no, no, don’t uncork that bottle of — son of a b****, why are you doing this to me?

I won’t sit here and say I’ve stayed alcohol-free all on my own. I’ve had some outside assistance and therapy I am astronomically grateful for. I desperately needed to quit drinking. I wasn’t in trouble with the law, I wasn’t drinking before work, but it was causing way too much distress. Having an eating disorder with a drinking problem is quite the dichotomy… aren’t I supposed to be terrified of calories? Alcohol calories didn’t count to me, apparently. Anyway, trying to be in recovery from an eating disorder while tying one on every weekend (and holiday, and non-holiday, and Tuesday evening) is like having two flat tires on the front of your car, replacing one, but not the other and expecting the car to drive just fine. Having issues with my alcohol intake is something I have been ashamed of, hence why I didn’t come to the realization sooner: there’s definitely a stigma out there. People with addiction aren’t always accepted – because a lot of times (I’m guilty of this too), it may be seen as simply a choice.

OK, yes. It is a choice for you to say yes or no to the drink or the drug or the compulsive exercise or what ever it may be. But it’s the thought behind that yes or no that is not always a “choice.” Why would anyone ask to be plagued with addiction?I’ve certainly never heard of anyone who has said to himself or herself, “Hmm this vice of mine, do it in copious amounts? Sign me up!” A poignant quote in the mental illness world is, “Genetics loads the gun, environment pulls the trigger.” It seems that some people are more susceptible than others depending on genes that run in the family. Throw that person into a destructive environment, and you may have yourself a perfect recipe for addiction. A friend once used this analogy, “Normal” drinkers, while drinking, have this little, red flag in their brains (I imagine it looks like the end of those Super Mario levels), that says, “Hey, dude! You’re crossing the line here. Time to chug an ice water and call it a night on the ole’ booze.” People with addiction? Well, somewhere along the line, the little, red flag was bent and broken in half. The moral of this story is, I really don’t want to carry around the shame anymore.

I have a problem with drinking. There, I said it.

And I hope in years to come, others don’t have to carry around the shame. We shouldn’t have to hide. We are all human. We all have things in our lives that are ridiculously hard to deal with. Doesn’t matter what it is. Let’s take a step back and try to be a little less critical. Had I not felt riddled with shame over my drinking and the stigma it carries with it, I could very well have admitted I had an issue a lot sooner. I think if we can break down these barriers, it might help people to help themselves. And I have to level with you. Not having to wake up in the morning with a ferocious, remorse-filled hangover? I’ll continue to sign up for that.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, head here for resources. You can also text 741741 from anywhere in the USA to text with a trained Crisis Counselor. 

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Stock photo by poplasen

Originally published: November 7, 2016
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